A Return to The Cool (Album review of Tim Easton’s, Not Cool)
by Owen M.S. Coughlin, Jr.
In the world of music and art as a whole, there is, for whatever reason, a tendency to try to put artists into a certain kind of box, based on the perceived genre under which their work falls. It’s sort of like, “well these guys rock hard but they are very emo, so this is punk rock; that’s all it is.” In the eyes’ of many artists, being stuffed into a specific kind of box like this is bothersome, and borderline disrespectful.
On Tim Easton’s 8th solo album, Not Cool, he calmly defies anyone who would seek to place his music in a box. The twenty-eight minute, ten song album runs the gambit of rock and roll—there are points where there is a distinctly classic feel, descents into the groovy realm of swamp music, catchy folk choruses, and even a couple points where Easton soulfully delivers his listeners into the world of soft rock. Basically, Not Cool clearly exhibits that Easton is simply a rocker—and that, I think, is the smallest box anyone can successfully stuff him in.
Admittedly, this was my first time listening to Easton’s music, but I had no trouble feeling at home from the jump. The album’s first track, “Don’t Lie” starts with a mysterious riff from the electric guitar before Easton jumps in with his acoustic—the foot tapping begins immediately, before Easton sings, “I came home, just the other night, the house felt like some-body was fight-ing; one last question I ask of you, tell me why you do the things that you do, and don’t lie.”
The song, as a whole, has a great rhythm, as Easton seemingly addresses a lover, asking her not to lie to him, as she seems to have been doing for some time.
As a life-long fan of music, I’ve always measured the strength of a song based upon whether or not it causes me to find my head bobbing or foot tapping, and there is no shortage of this throughout the album. What I enjoyed most about the collection of songs: Easton keeps things very simple and down to earth, as he lyricizes the common themes of love, the betrayals of lovers, the life of a rolling stone and the comforts of home. In fact, the only time when there seems to be any level of severe complexity to his lyrics is on the 6th track, “Four Queens.” The song is moved forward by the three musical instruments most commonly heard on the album: the electric and acoustic guitars, and a skillfully-employed harmonica. Throughout the song, Easton sings about four different types of women, represented by the four breeds of Queens found in a deck of playing cards; my favorite lyric: “aw, the Queen of Clubs, just can’t get clean.” Symbolism in this song is apparent, as a woman who can’t stay out of a club or bar rarely adheres to a strict schedule of sobriety. Sidenote: I listened to this album for the first time with my girlfriend, and there was some noticeable rump-shaking on her part during this track.
The two songs which follow “Four Queens,” move a bit away from the undercurrent of troubled love and discuss the difficulties of the life of a man on the road. The eighth track, “Gallatin Pike Blues,” begins with the lyric “If this stray dog keeps on howling, I believe I’m gonna lose my mind,” and moves forward from there with talk of courage and cowardice, amplified, at one point, by a haunting yet beautiful violin solo. The song is swampy and plucky, and it could only have been composed by a man, or group of men, who have spent much of their lives traveling the world.
The ninth song (and the album’s title track), “Not Cool,” is the only truly soft and somber ballad in the collection. It makes the album’s final return to the theme of painful relations between lovers, as Easton croons, “How could you put me in harm’s way if the reasons were not true?” which he follows with a chorus that repeats the two simple but dragged out words : “not cooool, not cooo-ooo-ooo-ool.” The only instruments heard on this song are an acoustic guitar and the piano, and it’s the type of ballad that anyone who has ever been sold down the river can easily relate to. Innovatively, I never imagined I would hear such a soothing rock chorus that simply repeated the words, “not cool.”
Apparently unwilling to end the album on such a downcast note, the music closes with a wordless song called “Knock Out Roses (For Levon),” which presents a sound that mixes southern, porch hospitality with the essence of the rolling countrysides of Ireland, where Easton lived for a time. The album, as a whole, obsesses over the betrayals the lyricist has suffered at the hands of women, but it manages to stay upbeat through it all. This, I think, could only be done by a man who can look back at a woman squandering his care for her and simply say, “yeah, that was not cool.”
Even though the album has a certain classic feel at times, it never sounds dated, and that is a real accomplishment. All in all, being only twenty-eight minutes long, I think it’s a musical creation that deserves the open ears of all breeds of people. And even though Easton settled on the title of Not Cool, in a world that’s “a mess, but ya just can’t let it break ya,” this album is about as cool as they come.